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National News

UPN's Comedy "Girlfriends" Takes Up Fight Against AIDS

April 14, 2003

The May 12 episode of "Girlfriends," UPN's urban relationship comedy, will be the final in a series of four that has dealt with the implications of AIDS. The series is part of a yearlong, multimillion-dollar campaign sponsored by UPN's parent Viacom Inc. and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation to combat HIV/AIDS. "That was our hardest story ever to do," said the show's producer, Mara Brock Akil. "How do you talk about AIDS and then be funny?"

While Akil was weighing various serious topics for inclusion in upcoming shows, John Wentworth, Paramount Television Group's executive vice president of marketing, told Akil about the campaign. Staff members were invited to a seminar on HIV/AIDS and encouraged to ponder how the subject might be incorporated in their shows. "That solidified the direction I wanted to go in," said Akil.

Viacom is not only writing the topic into some of its shows, but it is also donating airtime for public-service announcements valued at $120 million in 2003. The corporate commitment gave Kaiser access to everything from Viacom's radio stations to its outdoor advertising to its book publishing arm, Simon & Schuster. "The multimedia company brings a lot to the table," said Frank Bulgarella, president of cause marketing consulting firm Resource One/Causes & Effects.

Viacom's MTV Network had previously worked with Kaiser on AIDS awareness. However, the driving force for the new partnership was Mel Karmazin, the company's president and chief operating officer, who declared last spring at a company conference he wanted to launch a company-wide HIV/AIDS initiative. Carl Folta, senior vice president of corporate relations, contacted Kaiser, and the campaign was launched in January.

Last week Gillette Co. and AOL Time Warner Inc.'s WB teamed up on a similar campaign in which a cancer plot line was incorporated into an episode of the teen show "Dawson's Creek."

Back to other CDC news for April 14, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Wall Street Journal
04.14.03; Danielle Reed

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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